There may or may not be demons, but there may be people who would like to meet them.
If you’ve seen my three earlier articles on this subject you know my take on the new flowering of an old seed – the scourge of untrained and freelance exorcists of our own decade. I am actually afraid that this could become a trend and turn into a new supernatural panic. At the best, these characters are misguided self-promoters who do no good. At the worst, they do real harm to individuals and families; and there may be more sinister possibilities.
By raising the profile of the subject of exorcism and demonic possession I would hate to raise the likelihood that you, dear reader, or anyone you know may be demonically possessed. But that’s being done all around us by others, both in public and in private circles.
I also hate to spill out the logic of the matter in such a teachable format. Though shysters have always been able to fool those who are both gullible and untrained, one of the ways the average person could spot them was by their lack of academic credibility. They can’t project the aura of expertise. They can’t even use the terminology of the subject. Laying out some basics the way I do in these articles could make it easier for some of them to fake it and take that instant red flag away. Still, it’s important to get this information out. It will be important to you if you or any you know are involved in such a case.
My earlier articles introduced the odd new trend of unorthodox – non-Church - exorcism and situated it in the 20th century. We speculated on its recent origins and found most of them in the popular media. We talked about an authentic exorcist I was privileged to know - the late Father Alphonsus Trabold (1925-2005) of St. Bonaventure University – and contrasted the type of training, conviction and experience he possessed with that of today’s internet-educated “demonologists.”
We have also talked about the stages of psychic phenomena that might get a serious exorcist considering the possibility of possession in any specific case. But there are three things I left out, three final manifestations that have to be present before a serious exorcist considers a suspected case of possession to be a likely one.
There will be valid psychic phenomena, and it will be prodigious. Beds levitating, furniture hurling, even “apports” - objects and even living things mysteriously appearing. (Piles of dirt or worse. Hordes of bees and flies.) This dramatic psi can include displays of utterly superhuman strength and energy in the afflicted person, so often a child or frail woman who couldn’t throw a wastebasket on angel dust. A case like this, of course, will be very rare, and should rule out all the local – upstate New York - and contemporary cases I’ve heard of. But amazing psychokinetic displays are not by any means the sole determinant of true demonic possession. Some of the most exceptional poltergeist cases, for instance, I’ve heard of have come close to this type of frenzy in episodes and make it hard to tell the true source.
The presumed victim of the hostile spiritual takeover will display uncanny extra-sensory knowledge, too. In spells the victim knows what’s going on in other rooms of the house and many miles away. The victim can give strangers obscure details about their pasts. He or she can predict what will happen to living people in the future and give us all information about the ancient world. It’s all as if a truly supernatural being is inside the sufferer. Still, this display of great information talents alone isn’t an exclusive sign of demonic possession. Many of the great psychics and prophets could, on occasion, do all the above. No one knew where they were getting their knowledge, either, but there was no suspicion that they were demonically possessed. They certainly didn’t act in any other way like the sufferers of this terrible condition.
The conclusive sign of true demonic possession will be when the victim converses in languages unknown to him or her, particularly the ancient Classical tongues like Greek, Latin, and Hebrew. Most old Western magical and religious texts are written in one of these languages, so it’s as if they are the working tongues of demonology. It’s not unknown for non-possessed people to use languages they were never taught, too – in episodes – but even when this is proven to be valid evidence of ESP (and not just the marvels of a physical brain), the person doesn’t talk intelligently in those old languages. The sufferers are just receiving – somehow - words, phrases, sentences and passages from somewhere. This is miraculous enough but not the intelligent use of unknown languages. Someone truly possessed will speak with all the superhuman knowledge of an actively reasoning “demon.”
I have never heard of an upstate New York case that came even close to any of this – violent psychic physical phenomena, special information talents, and conversing in unknown languages. Anyone who pretends to do a true exorcism ceremony without seeing all of these conditions is a sham. The afflicted individual needs psychological counseling, not psychic deliverance.
The psychic snake-oil salesmen calling themselves demonologists – the amateur variety - should be out of jobs once the public knows all this. Yet there is no shortage of them in 2007, and they seem to find willing subjects. I’ve often wondered at the motives of someone who takes this sense of offbeat power to himself without any reasonable basis in study or experience.
Some of today’s pop proponents of exorcism - the Protestant term is “deliverance” - are fundamentalist religious figures, usually Christian. Bob Larson is one high-profile practitioner who recently appeared at the heart of an exorcism/possession special on one of the “educational” and often splendid TV channels. I honestly forget which one, but it was either DSC, TLC, HIST, or A&E. Larson has peers like Neil Anderson, Benny Hinn, Derek Prince and Morris Cerullo. I have a bit of sympathy for these people who at least seem to believe what they are saying. They are also somewhat trained and operating in a tradition clearly older and deeper than themselves. And their view of things isn’t all that offbeat in some branches of mainstream religion. The question is merely one of definition.
In the view of Hinn, Larson and the like, demonic possession is a much shallower thing than the grave case of the real matter familiar to the mainstream of all the old Western faiths. The demons nip constantly at all of us, they think. We are a little bit possessed now and then, and after it’s built up awhile we need to get a little bit exorcised. The mass ministrations of these churchmen seem to cause little harm, and when someone does develop an issue after one of their services, it’s not clear that the problem wasn’t already there. Furthermore, the deliverance ceremony is done quickly in a supportive group setting and an atmosphere of evangelism. It’s like a virtual re-baptism, a public renewal of faith something like the rallies of Billy Graham and a host of 19th century forbears.
Contrast that with some other pop demonologists, some of whom started out in the 1990s as surveillance ghosthunters. Not many of them are very public yet, but that could change, and these are the ones I’m worried about.
When surveillance ghosthunting was new to the public, ghosthunters were unique and remarkable. Doubtless many of them enjoyed the attention, doubtless some of it positive, that started coming to them in life only once they found their oddball new pursuit. There was always the tendency among them to enhance their occult cachet by portraying the spooks as scary and threatening, which is almost never correct and did a lot of disservice to their very widely misunderstood subject. Now that so many new and amateur ghosthunting groups are out there getting the same surveillance results and usually with even more tendency to melodrama, simply revealing “the spirits” (har) through technology is no longer enough. Those who started it out need to up the ante if they want to stay ahead. Now they’ll not only tell you what the spooks are up to, but, when it’s scary, they’ll come visit you and take the heat off. They’ll get rid of the demons.
This is far worse than the public demonstrations of Bob Larson and his like. Those big displays don’t pay much attention to individuals and have little chance to nurture the very condition they seek to dispel. The demon-speller who started as a ghosthunter is used to getting into private homes and interviewing individuals. This becomes a rare opportunity to assert influence. Now he or she meets small and shattered families brimming with trauma of their own and feels just as confident prescribing the new medicine.
If you know anything at all about the subject you know how serious and dangerous even a marginal possession case can be to all parties involved. There’s a world of karma spinning around these situations, even if there’s no demons. There is also a huge risk to the would-be exorcist in these potentially real cases, as well as to all other individuals on hand. Why would anyone who truly believes in the stuff get into such a situation flippantly? The answer might be that it’s all a game to these internet-trained demonologists, that they really don’t believe in the demon-dealing… Or else they do and they’re trying to get closer to it.
“Lotta these people… They aren’t really workin’ for the Light,” said my mystical Algonquin friend Michael Bastine a few months ago when I talked to him about this subject. I thought I understood him. I presumed that these newbie demonologists were working for no higher purpose than themselves; that they were trying to aggrandize themselves, if not become rich and famous, by telling the public something radical; that they didn’t care what happened to the people they “exorcised”; and that they were just trying to make a spectacle by which they might realize their goals for themselves. Since it was what seemed most logical to me, I processed it that way. I should have gone a bit slower.
In later conversations and as the matter developed further I realized that Michael hadn’t spelled out everything he meant. That’s why he’s such a fine teacher. He lets me figure a few things out for myself, then come back to him for a bit more. That’s the way I’d work if I were that subtle.
Michael is no expert on technical Euro mysticism. I don’t know a Native American who is; but the elders and any trained by the elders develop a lot of insight into human character, including matters of spirituality and supernaturalism that probably don’t change much across the human species. And of course the Native Americans are to be consulted about almost any puzzle that develops in the physical space of their former territory, which is all around us in the Americas. Michael had had some contact with the personality type I was describing, and possibly the general subject. He led to it with a phrase he barely finished in our second conversation, and in a flash I got it.
They don’t work with the light because they work for something else.
There may be those who want to deal with the demons. They draw to suspected appearances whenever they hear about them. When they encounter a potential possession case their only resentment may be that the demons came to someone else. They hover by cases of suspected possession the way a gardener tends flower beds: because of the chance that something they want may be there or that it can be encouraged to grow. Those who encounter the subjects of this article may not be the only ones who need to read it.
I've been told by some I trust that it is familiar knowledge that surprising numbers of religious folk - preachers, priests, nuns - are closet Satanists. It's hard for me to take it seriously, but now I wonder. In an era in which the Church is going broke, closing parishes, suffering scandals, and denying priests and nuns both public and private expressions of sexuality, the standards for admission to the inner sanctums could be regrettably loose. Someone who doesn't belong in the religion business could quite easily get into it.
The idea seemed so outrageous to me years ago that I would have felt stupid asking Father Alphonsus about the level of Satanism and demon-worship, either in the world or among members of the orthodox faiths. By now that failure has become one of the great regrets in my acquaintance with him. I know he would have told me the truth as he knew it, even if not for publication, and that I would have had an opinion I could trust. The idea still sounds ridiculous to me – priests who love Satan. Maybe I'm naive, but I'd need Father Alphonsus to tell me to believe it.
I hate even to bring up this idea, since I have no personal knowledge of the matter. I also think the Christian message is a good one, and that the general work of all Christian churches has been well intended. And there’s a big “piling-on” effect going on against that old and venerable institution, the Catholic Church. Many of the pilers-on are people who didn’t like it to begin with and would throw any stone that comes to hand. Regrettably, in the last five decades the Church itself has set a lot of them out.
Whether or not there are demons, there could be people who would like to meet them. I wish I knew the true extent of this situation.